Young Mother Hubbard

She remembers Wilford Woodruff—and at 95 she’s still going strong.

Old Mother Hubbard of nursery rhyme fame found that her cupboard was bare. But Elsie Jane Hubbard, still young despite the fact that she is nearing the century mark, finds in her “cupboard” a wealth of talents and experiences. And she continually nourishes others from her overflowing store. The secrets of her abundant life are not complex: simple living, hard work, a sense of humor, and a sure testimony of the gospel.

A published poet, a popular speaker, an active advocate of daily physical exercise, Sister Hubbard is one of those people who never seems to get much older—just better.

At age six she started singing with her sister Mary. And she has been singing ever since. Just recently she performed before an audience of appreciative peers at a senior citizens’ home. One recent month found her calendar marked with seven different appointments—two on the same day. One of these was a visit to a third-grade class at a local elementary school: “I told them some of the experiences I had as a child,” she said. Then, with obvious delight, “The following week I received twenty-two thank-you letters” like the following:

Dear Mrs. Hubbard,

Thank you for coming to our school and telling us about pioneer times. I liked best hearing about when you went to the Party and when the Pony ran so fast to get home.

Love, Kami Williams

Elsie Jane’s life as a pioneer child began on 9 March 1889 in the little town of Elba, Idaho. When she was still small, her parents, John Alma and Elizabeth Jane Cook Dalton, moved to Willard, Utah. By the time they moved back to Gem Valley, Idaho, Elsie was nine, old enough to help her sister drive the family cows most of the 110 miles. For three years the family hauled water to their homestead from the Bear River four miles away. Elsie was the fifth of twelve Dalton children, and she got her schooling in a one-room schoolhouse.

For a family of twelve to live in a two-room log house with few conveniences, a horse and buggy their only means of transportation, might seem to be real hardship. But the absence of luxury developed Elsie’s native resourcefulness. “We learned how to do almost everything from scratch,” she remembers.

And Elsie’s childhood was rich with memorable experiences. She heard U. S. presidential candidate Grover Cleveland, on a whistle-stop tour of the United States, give a campaign speech at the Willard train depot.

She even remembers seeing the fourth President of the Church. Elsie was only about six years old when President Wilford Woodruff drove into Willard in a nice carriage drawn by a team of pretty black horses. The Primary children, all dressed in white, lined Main Street, each with their arms full of flowers to toss in front of the passing carriage.

When Elsie was about ten, she shook hands with President Lorenzo Snow, who was attending stake conference in Soda Springs, Idaho.

An even more historic meeting took place when, at the age of nine, Elsie Jane met Charles Hubbard, who would later become her husband. Only ten himself, Charles was pulling his mother on a sleigh when Elsie first saw him. But it wasn’t until Charles had completed a three-year mission to Japan that they first dated.

Elsie and Charles were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 6 June 1912. Elsie made her own wedding dress and one for her sister Pearl, who was married on the same day.

Elsie recalls how she and Charles set up housekeeping: “Father Hubbard gave Charles a team and helped us get the furniture we had to have. We had fixed up one room of a little log two-room cabin, dirt roof, as a bedroom. Father Hubbard had a good-sized tent about eight-by-ten that they used to sleep in when they were threshing. Charles and Father boarded the sides up and put a board floor in it. We used this until Father went threshing, then we fixed the other room of the log cabin for our kitchen. It isn’t the house that makes the home, for we were very happy there.”

Charles and Elsie enjoyed a very happy life together until his death in 1980. “We just loved each other,” Elsie says. “This was the secret. You can’t live with someone for sixty-eight years and not have some arguments. But most of the time we got along fine,” she laughs heartily.

Besides being a loving wife and mother, Elsie has always been willing to give of her talents through Church service. Two and one-half months before her sixth baby was born, Elsie was called to serve as Relief Society president.

Her responsibilities were many and varied. “When there was a death in the ward,” she recalls, “the Relief Society was called in at once, and they, with the bishopric, had to take over.” The task of caring for the deceased and preparing them for burial was never easy for the young mother. “We never felt we were qualified, but we continually asked for God’s help and always did the best we could.”

The Relief Society sisters also often helped the doctor bring new babies into the world.

Elsie recalls one brush with death. “A certain family lived at the mouth of a canyon, quite a distance away. Just the husband, the doctor, and I were there. The baby wouldn’t come. The doctor worked so hard that sweat ran down into his eyes. I stood by with a little towel and wiped away the moisture while the husband administered chloroform. Finally, the woman was laid on hay in the sleigh box and taken to the hospital in Soda Springs. Both mother and baby were saved.”

Fortunately, most deliveries were not complicated by serious problems. Elsie helped deliver quite a few babies, and many in the ward where she served as Relief Society president still greet her lovingly as “Aunt Elsie.”

Although Elsie has met many challenges during her long and productive life, one of the most difficult to meet came when her husband, Charles, died in 1980, after sixty-eight years of marriage. Adjusting to living alone has not been easy, she freely admits. “I try to keep busy and advise others not to feel sorry for themselves.”

And keep busy she does. Elsie crochets baby booties for little ones and has made more than forty afghans for friends, neighbors, and relatives. Many of Elsie’s loved ones treasure poems she writes especially for them. One of her poems has been set to music by her daughter Cleone and sung by a ward choir.

An indispensable part of Elsie’s active life is a miniature trampoline with a bar, which allows her to run in place. “I still exercise about fifteen minutes each day,” she says.

Yes, Elsie is still going strong. There is no time to sit and rock for this dynamic woman. She writes in her journal, is an involved member of her ward, and is a faithful visiting teacher in her fifty-fifth year of service. Elsie radiates a real love for others. She is able to reach out to her eight children (all still living), forty-five grandchildren, one hundred great-grandchildren, and fifteen great-great-grandchildren. And she receives help from members of her family, too. Her oldest daughter, Ora, for example, fixes Elsie’s hair, takes care of her business affairs, and has Elsie over for dinner.

No, when Elsie Hubbard goes to her cupboard, she doesn’t find it bare. The blessings of a lifetime of giving and loving are overflowing. And she intends to continue her life of dedication and service: “My greatest wish,” she declares, “is to remain faithful to the end and be an influence for good in the world.”

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

Marie Fuhriman Olsen, mother of eight children, serves as Relief Society homemaking counselor in her Providence, Utah, ward.